Hello Silence, My Old Friend

IMG_2083My former business partner always said to be wary of me when I came calling with crazy ideas because they had a habit of catching. There is something of the catchy crazy idea in my friendship with Rus VanWestervelt. We don’t have the sort of friendship where we talk every day. We might go months without talking but you can be certain, when we inhabit the same think space, there’s a tilt of life’s axis.

Last week was no different.

But first let me back track a little…

The Social Media Sabbatical

When I was growing up television and radio were our main platforms for media consumption. The default was always ‘if you don’t like it, turn it off’ (and this was in the days when you actually had to get up off the couch to work your magic with the TV!)

Unlike no other time in my life (perhaps no other time in this planet’s history) has there been such a saturation of incoming data and a reliance of being ‘plugged in’. Last year in my fragile state, the bombardment of ‘unsolicited data’ began to take its toll on me. And it wasn’t always the general negative state of the news or inappropriate online behaviour of the minority. It was just as often a friend’s happy news that threatened to undo me.

In the end I unplugged. I announced  I was taking a break from social media, removed all the apps from my phone and steeled myself away from accessing Facebook and Twitter from my laptop. I took time, in the silence, to recalibrate. I did it several times, each time when I felt  I was unable to cope with what might come through my newsfeed. Usually it was for a week, one period lasted just shy of a month.

I was doing what I’d been groomed to do in the 70’s and 80’s. If you didn’t like it, turn it off.

This year I’ve taken a week’s break every month. I’ve taken it when I’ve felt I needed it and when I was sure I didn’t. I’ve tried to be a quiet advocate for less time engaged in online interaction and more time spent in other forms of interaction, championing as always, written correspondence (as the woman who continues to embrace her phobia of the telephone).

A Struggle

While taking time off social media has gone a long way to help me start to regain some equilibrium with my mental health, I still struggle with long term issues that stem from my son leaving mainstream schooling in 2012. It’s hard not to feel like you are not disappearing when your entire life shrinks to the size of your house. I’ve struggled with irrational ideas of being invisible and of suburbia slowly consuming me, until the point of disappearing forever. A bit like my dreams and ambitions which have been put perpetually on hold.

This year though, I’ve been trying hard to embrace the lot I’ve been dealt. I’ve been rethinking how I conceptualise myself. In March, rather than say I was a ‘shadow of my former self’ when I needed to turn down three project proposals, I looked for a more positive self expression because I’m not sure the person I was in 2011 was the best version of myself – someone who was a workaholic, who had no close friends and was barely writing. That’s hardly the best iteration of myself. The template for whom I do a compare and contrast.

So, on the way home from having coffee with a friend, as I cried barely able to see my way to walk, let along text, I said that perhaps I could think of myself as the strongest distillation of myself rather than a shadow of my former self – all the fire and heat and steam burning away all the things that didn’t really matter. At the end of it all, I had my family, my friends and my writing. Perhaps this was the strongest I had ever been, the purest form of me?

Accepting Limitations

Rather than change my limitations or mitigate them, rather than try to fix them or hope someone else might do it for me, I could instead try and own them. Make them my own. And I didn’t necessarily have to rebrand them to make them palatable.

As writers we are more often than not bound to perform within arbitrary parameters: word count, style, genre just to name a few. Given this is the world I inhabit, surely I’m able to work with my limitations (or what I perceived as them) rather than my limitations work again me.


The motif (aka the irrational fear) of being invisible remains indelible on my psyche, no matter what I do. The ridiculous thing is, Invisibility in any other realm would be considered a a super power  If I were to Facebook now and ask: What would you do if you were invisible for a day? I am pretty sure no one would answer: sit in a corner and cry. (And just in case you wanted to know, I’d be leaving the house without my clothes if I could be invisible for the day).

So I decided several weeks ago (and purely by accident, all this ‘insight’ is after the fact), that perhaps I could embrace my invisibility. I went to Continuum (the Victorian science fiction convention) without any one knowing. I didn’t nominate for panels. I didn’t organise to meet up with any other writers. I went as a writer, without adding any publishing credits or any other hats, to my name. While I did end up hooking up with other writers, I by-in-large lurked in the audience, knitted and soaked in the conversations around me. I enjoyed myself more than I have at any Con in the last few years. Being invisible had been far from awful.

But my extended social media sabbatical with Rus is a whole new level of invisibility.

105 Days

Rus has very fixed ideas on what he wants to achieve in the next 15 weeks. I’m more here because I can never say no to Rus, and I think it’s a really interesting social experiment, to black out all social media for 105 days. I’m hoping it’s an experiment that won’t leave anyone scared and will provide the opportunity for some enlightenment on the way.

While Rus has conceptualised our social media sabbatical as The Darkness (and yes, invisibility definitely fits with that idea) I’m thinking of it more in terms of The Silence (I won’t be getting around and wiping memories though!) I can live with my own invisibility within the world I usually inhabit by taking myself off social media and in doing so, I can seek the kind of silence and stillness that the here-right-now, at your finger tips, instantaneous type of communication and information stream doesn’t allow for.

It’s daunting though.

My life hasn’t changed since the end of 2012 when it reduced down to my home and even further, to the kitchen table where our lessons happen. Social media has always been my ‘water cooler’ – the place I’ve gone to for social interaction when I haven’t been able to have that kind of interaction in the real world. With it gone, I need to make a greater effort to stay in contact. I also need my closest friends to know that we need other forms of communication to keep in touch. Text messaging has always been my best friend, now it might have a slightly angelic glow about it. I’ll be forced to get out of the house. My son will be forced to deal with it, and come with me.


It’s one thing to own your invisibility as a concept. To embrace it. To live it over a weekend. It’s another thing entirely for it to be your default for 15 weeks. I know Rus is there, on the other end. The only catch is we both agreed to communicate entirely though letters for the duration of our sabbatical. So whatever I pour out on the page will be history by the time it reaches the US. But at the same time, in the perfect time machine a letter is, it will also be the present.

In the silence … there will be plenty of time and space to begin mending the brokenness I’ve inflicted on myself in the past six years. At no other time has the name of this blog been more pertinent: 1000 pieces of blue sky, all waiting to be fitted together.

“Because, Science” is not a Valid Argument

I’ve noted a growing trend in social media, what I’m calling “Because, Science.” At it’s least extreme it is permission to structure a discussion in such a way it invites lynch mobs of people to take the piss and have a good laugh at those on the other side of the issue. At it’s most extreme, it’s the propagation of all manner of hate-speak toward anyone with differing or dissenting views, where science is used as justification for it: because science says XYZ I have the right to accompany this information with commentary that is degrading, aggressive and insulting.

I’ve realised it’s the most insidious of persecutions, because it often comes from intelligent and articulate people, people I respect and admire. People who hold themselves up as advocates for civil rights, social justice, equality and freedom of speech. The people who would stand up and rally against similar degrading, aggressive and insulting commentary on a “Because, God” argument.

And it’s sinister, because of the gag that comes with it. Why open yourself to a full frontal assault by being honest about your position, from sharing your personal experiences or the facts you’ve accumulated in your research, from being able to articulate your different point of view, to engage in a discussion, when everything is couched in vile, degrading or derisive judgement. Of people. Like you.

From being summarily dismissed and silenced.

Because, Science.

What happened to agree to disagree, without the vitriol?

I’ve always been lead to believe science was the objective exploration of ideas, and the articulation of those ideas, in theory and practise. That science was based in the rigors of methodology; of the efficacy, objectivity and transparency of results; a passion for debate and RESPECT for divergent and alternate schools of thought and the appreciation that such discussions had the potential to be a catalyst, the genesis, of the next great hypothesis. Of the next big discovery.

I want to read both sides of a debate. I want to widen my understanding, my knowledge base. I want to read ‘evidence-based’ outcomes that rely not just on empirical, ‘quantitative’ evidence but also on anecdotal, ‘qualitative’ evidence’. I want to see where these two different forms of inquiry merge and cross. How they mirror and diverge. I want to share ideas and be part of feisty and insightful discussions. I want to feel safe to do so.

I don’t want to convert you to my opinion — after all it is only an opinion and we all have the right to have those — any more than I want to be converted to your opinion. I’d like to explore your opinion, to help me understand how you came to feel like this, to believe this, maybe learn something new along they way, as I’d like to invite you to explore my opinion in the same way. I want to be respected, like I respect you.

I don’t want to read science accompanied with emotive, offensive and abusive frames and comments. I don’t want to read anything that is accompanied (intentionally or unintentionally) with shaming or humiliating language. It doesn’t matter that it’s generalised; that it doesn’t specifically name me. But it ‘names’ those who don’t agree with you, which might be me or a friend, a family member, a colleague, someone you care about. It has the potential (at best) to offend, at worst to leave someone feeling victimised, in fear of recriminations and ostracism if they were to speak openly.

When you couch your information like this, it invalidates everything you want to say. And maybe I want to hear what you have to say. It denies me the chance to have my say. Do you want to be someone who steals the voices of others?

It’s not Because Science at all. Science is just facts. Science is not personal. Only people are.

Image: Christian Mohn, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License

Social Media Sabbatical

Since the start of the year, I’ve been consciously opting out of social media on a regular basis. For the first few months of the year, I was taking a week every month. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a break from it.

I don’t normally plan it in advance, but I’ve noted several things:

  • it normally happens around the dark moon — an innate sense of wanting to withdraw from the world and spend time in my cave.
  • it occurs at times of fragility — a conscious decision to protect myself from the outside world.

Social media is so seductive. And pervasive. And intrusive if we let it. In 2011 when I had my breakdowns I would have done well to have taken myself offline rather than stay on.

I know now that the times when I feel alone, depressed and generally disconnected, social media looks to offer a genuine connection, an umbilicus to a world I feel separated from. But in reality social media when I’m vulnerable is an avalanche of information, opinion, news, photographs that compound rather than ameliorate my feelings. It sets up greater  dissonance in my head and despair in my heart.

When I find myself resenting, hating, people on my newsfeed — people with kids who go happily to school, excel at sport and anything else that pings off my own struggles, I know it’s time to take break. To stop comparing apples and oranges, to stop feeding my anxieties and negative self talk.

In the quiet there is a chance to recalibrate. Find equilibrium. To appreciate what you have.

Other times its a matter of just being miserable in private or taking the potential of all the bile and vitriol I want to spit out into the world and contain it, work with it, try and find a way to make peace with it… while I wait for the swing of hormones or thoughts or circumstances to come back in my direction, along with a little sanity, a little comfort.

It’s not until I remove all my social media apps (I spend most of my time on social media via my phone) and disable the websites, do I remember how compulsive my use of them is. It’s beyond habit, it’s an ‘automation of use’. It’s like a fucked up version of breathing. You don’t think to breath. You do it regardless. I don’t think when I’m reaching for Facebook or Twitter. But unlike breathing, I don’t need it.

The first day (like today) is always the hardest, the process of weaning off. It feels lonely and empty — reaching for something that’s no longer there — at a time when I’m feeling lonely and empty.


In time I’ll feel cohesive again. There will be an opportunity to relish the space, the quiet, the room to move in my head again. When I return there will be a frantic type of energy (there always is) that scares me. Like when I first moved to the city and driving in three lanes of traffic was overwhelming. It takes a few days to adjust to being part of the social amoeba again, to want to be part of it (even if I’ve been dying to get back into the thick of it).

Until then there is reading, housework, journalling, planning, prep work for teaching, time for introspection, movies and the other things from which time is regularly sucked from. And waiting, I know, are conversations that come about because the convenience of social media has gone.

Image via Photoree